Empty shell transformed - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Empty shell transformed

visits a recently opened branch practice in Somerset

OPENING any premises will
always involve some element of risk
for any business.

But Tom Gliddon and his
colleagues in the West Lodge
veterinary clinic in Minehead were on
pretty safe ground when they opened a
new branch clinic at Williton in
February of this year.
That is because Tom
grew up on a farm in
the village and many
members of his
extended family still
live and work within
the parish boundary.

Williton lies about
nine miles to the
south-east of the
Somerset seaside resort and its
residents had been without a local
supplier of veterinary services after
another practice closed its branch in
the village in March 2009.

So when Tom and his partners,
Philip Browne and Simon White,
spotted a suitable vacant building they
saw an opportunity to provide an
easily accessible service for pet owners
in the neighbourhood and out as far as
Bridgwater, about 12 miles further east.

White Lodge is a traditional mixed practice with about 45% of practice
turnover in the small animal area, 40%
equine and a farm animal workload
that has actually grown over recent
years as neighbouring practices have
vacated the field.

The practice has a
history dating back to
the 1950s but its
current incarnation
began in 1994 when
the business moved its
main premises to a
light industry estate on
the east side of
Minehead.

At that time it was still unusual for a veterinary business to choose to base itself in an industrial
unit but the decision was clearly a
sensible one as the practice has grown
from three to seven vets. So the
partners had no doubts about basing
the new branch premises in two empty
units on the Roughmoor trading estate
in Williton. The attractions of plentiful
parking spaces and a highly visible
setting in a busy thoroughfare
outweighed any advantages of moving
to a more photogenic building.

Specialist company

Having found the right spot, the
partners handed over responsibility for
designing and managing the
conversion work to a specialist
veterinary property company, Vetbuild
Solutions, set up two years ago by
Derek King, formerly chief executive
of a Wiltshire referral practice.

He maintains that his experience of
managing a veterinary practice gives
him a better understanding of the
practical requirements of a small
animal clinic and the legislative
framework governing their function
than a general building firm.

The firm’s designer produced a set
of plans for a clinic with one consulting
room, a small prep room and
operating theatre
and separate
waiting and
kennelling areas for
canine and feline
patients.

The idea was to
have the unit run
by one vet with a
nurse and
receptionist.
Routine operations
such as spays and
minor wound
repair would be
handled in-house
but more complex procedures
would be
referred on to
the main site
where there is
the high-end
digital
radiography,
ultrasound,
endoscopy and
laser surgery
equipment, etc.,
that is
increasingly
becoming part of
mainstream
veterinary
practice.

A planning
application was submitted in September 2009 and by
December the project was ready to go
ahead.

As the site was effectively an empty
shell the conversion work was
straightforward and was completed on
schedule in early February.

Not even the unusually fierce winter
conditions at that time managed to
disrupt the work. “We only lost one day
when the snow was too deep for the
builders to get through. They managed
to finish the job on time and within
budget and so we were very pleased,”
Tom recalls.

Since then,
Vetbuild Solutions
has gone on to
manage a number of
other projects for
practices around the
country and has
even been hired as
an adviser on a
project to construct
a new feline-only
clinic serving the
expatriate
community in Abu
Dhabi.

“I think the secret of our success
has been that we understand issues like
the health and safety rules affecting
veterinary businesses and the criteria
for registering premises with the RCVS
practice standards scheme.

“A general building firm would
have to get that information off the
senior clinicians in the practice. But
because we know the territory, the
clinicians can get on with doing what
they do best and leave the rest to us,”
Derek King explains.

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